Just take my hand
CHAPTER
1
A hand in the dark
I woke up alone, blinking against the soft moonlight.
There was something terribly wrong.
As if to confirm the thought, I spotted a car was racing towards me showing no signs of slowing down. I only just managed to move enough so it didn’t drive over my legs. Were cars usually so silent? Why was I waking up near a car?
I shook my head, trying to clear it but instead the world began to spin.
At least sounds were starting to come back, first just a faint buzzing then honking and music from down the street floating in the night air.
‘Argh’ I groaned, my brain felt like it had been scrambled overnight.
‘Deep breaths Peter’ I murmered, trying to regain by bearings.
First of all where was I?
I straightened up, feeling a rough brick wall against my back and began to scan my surroundings.
Rotten newspapers, cardboard and chip packets surrounded me, each garnish with speckles of mud.
Charming.
In better circumstances, I may have been worried my suit would get mucked up but, glancing down, I realized most of my clothes were gone. At-least my pants and undershirt remained.
I dug my hands into my pockets a spark of hope begging to form but it quickly died. Someone had taken my wallet and phone too.
That led to the next question: What had happened to me?
The Pirinian business trip had been going great, I met the client, held a meeting, went to a bar with his associates and then.... blank.
Had I been drugged? Knocked unconscious by some mugger?
I managed to stand up but my knees were still shaking, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to let go of the wall.
I spotted an old woman walking by steadily with a cane and, without thinking, I reached out and grabbed onto her arm clumsily.
She shrieked, trying to batt me off with her walking stick.
I wondered what I looked like to her?
A very tall young man in just his undershirt, acting drunk.
A creep...Well never mind, this was an emergency, I would make it up to her later.
‘Where am I’ I rasped desperately.
Her answer was several savage hits from her walking stick.
She then started yelling at me in a strange husky language and i let go of her in shock.
What?!
Everyone from the capitol had spoken perfect English.
Was I not in the Northern District anymore? Was I even in the same country?!
All I knew at that moment I was in some serious trouble.
‘Come on Rex you’re gonna lose!’ I screamed, my feet pounding across the tin roofs of the market place.
The sun was in the dead center of the sky so we had to be quick, two seconds too long on the heated metal and the soles of your feet would be cooked like kebab meat.
My short friend was finding that out the hard way.
‘Ow!’ He cried ‘Wait up Ari! This hurts! We’re to old for this!’
I didn’t falter, hopping from one roof to another, ignoring the stall keepers muttering angrily below.
‘Are you gonna go sook to your mumma?’ I asked laughing ‘If you don’t hurry we’ll miss the free dumplings!’
I was minutes ahead, sprinting faster than a wild dog, feeling as if I had wings for seconds at a time as I jumped gaps and dodged home made chimneys.
It was marvelous! Thrilling! Fun! Like being a kid again.
I thought, for once, we might make it to Mrs Palla’s famous dumpling shop just at closing time, just in time for the leftovers.
Suddenly there was a loud crash and, with chagrin, I realized Rex had managed to fall through a rotten board.
With a bound I dropped to the ground through a hole in the tin, sticking the landing and rushing back through the labyrinth of sellers stalls to find my friend.
I had told the boy to stick to the metal bits but he had to go and ruin it, I sighed, my stomach growling, no dumplings today.
It wasn’t hard to guess where he had fallen, there was already a crowd forming, eager for a spectacle.
A man with a long moustache had the boy by the arm, shouting at him, pointing to a hole in the roof of his stall.
‘Who is going to pay for this huh?! My children? My wife? Our food money will go into fixing something you’ve done, Prince‘ he roared in Pirinian.
‘You tell him!’ A woman shouted at the front of the mob ‘People from the upper class shouldn’t be hanging around here!’
Oh no, it looked like an all out caste war was about to begin if I didn’t do something.
Rex was lighter skinned than most lower city Pirinians, but not by a lot. If only he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb in his Sunday clothes, complete with a pressed white shirt, suspenders and a smart jacket.
The stall-owner was wrong though, Rex wasn’t a prince... Well his uncle was but there were over 100 princes living in the capitol.
Someone threw an apple at Rex and the crowd cheered.
Ok thinking time was over!
I ran in through the gathering, grabbing hold of bewildered teenager’s free arm which he had been using to trying and protect his face.
‘Haha we did it!’ I yelled hugging him. The mustached stall owner growled, not dropping Rex’s other arm.
‘What are you doing here little urchin!’ He barked ‘This is adult business’
‘I am an adult!’ I exclaimed angrily, I was very slim and a little short so people often mistook me for a child. Rex was even shorter than me but he never had the same problem.
The mustached man didn’t seem to believe me and I was about to begin my usual tirade of arguments when Rex squeezed my hand.
With one glance at my wide eyed friend I knew it was time to go. The teen was absolutely terrified.
I reached into my hidden pocket before flipping the stall-owner a copper coin. It wasn’t much, but wood was cheap.
‘I’m sorry that he broke your roof sir we were in a hurry’ I explained breathlessly. My palm itched as he caught the money.
Well there goes dinner.
‘We stole it from a real prince’s son in the Northern District, we were being chased!’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ The man shouted ‘It’s clear he’s a royal, he’s too pale to be one of us and his nails are clean!’
He brought up the kid’s hand for the crowd to see, they gasped at the damning evidence, I frowned this was quickly turning into a trial and the crowd was still armed with fruit.
‘He’s a germaphobe’ I replied smoothly ‘but more to the point do you think a snooty royal would drop through the roof of a market? That they would be on a market roof? With no shoes? Not unless they were being piggy backed by of their servants’ I laughed and the crowd did too, people began to dissipate as they lost interest.
When the vendor let go of Rex’s arm my friend ran to me and together we jogged all the way to the gates of the Northern District.
Rex’s mother was waiting at the entrance. Drops of amethyst hung from her ears and her dress was made of an expensively fancy red silk, even her face painted beautifully.
She would have looked like a doll if she wasn’t scowling like a demon. Without a word, the frightening woman marched up to Rex, grabbed his ear with her manicured fingers and pulled him back inside the gates.
‘I told you not to play with Urchin’s’ I heard her say before the loud metallic clange of closing gates blocked out the rest of the lecture.
I was not allowed in in the Northern District. Though I tried to deny it, I was just an urchin and the Northern District was for Royals and foreigners.
I turned my heel in a huff. It’s not like I wanted to live in such a snooty neighborhood anyway.
I walked home hungry and tired.
My feet were a bit red from the hot roofs but the loneliness was what hurt the most. There would be no one waiting for me at home.
A cloud covered the moon and I sighed. It was almost too dark too see now, I had never been afraid of the dark but it would be harder to find a safe path home.
Suddenly, a hand reached out from the shadows and wrapped around my ankle.
I yelped and pulled away, struggling to control my racing heart as the hand fell limply to the ground.
My knife was in my hand by the time I spotted what had grabbed me.
It was a man.
A very long man.
He was lying against the wall in just a thin shirt and pants. I could have counted his ribs. Clearly he was starving, and there were cuts on his face from who knows what.
I wasn’t a doctor, but even I could tell that this man was more than halfway to dead.

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